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Anti-Porn Activist's Ugly Attempts To Provoke Outrage

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No conclusive data exists on the harm pornography does directly to the men (or women) who view it, or to the partners of men (or women) who view it. It seems unlikely that such data ever will come to be. It's been four decades since the first Meese Commission found no connection between violent behavior and consumption of pornography, but then-president Richard Nixon -- much like today's radical feminists -- summarily rejected that conclusion because it didn't fit his personal ideology.

After 40 years promoting a movement devoid of scientific evidence, anti-porn activists are becoming increasingly desperate for ways to persuade the unconvinced public that sex on film is our greatest cultural threat. Consequently, their arguments are increasingly ludicrous. The most recent example is courtesy of Gail Dines and her horror over young ladies' pubic grooming habits.

In a piece for The Guardian, published in advance of this year's AVN (Adult Video News) expo, Dines ominously opens with recognition of the brainstorming that goes on amidst these "predatory capitalists" who are, unconscionably, using their business convention as an opportunity to talk about their business. She strangely focuses on the hotel sale of porn, citing $500 million as the money made by that endeavor alone.

Incidentally, porn's biggest players are in a state of financial decline, a fact Dines does not mention. And if economics is her interest, it's curious that no comparative figure is provided for how much hotels make selling TV shows, mainstream films, or games on demand. Perhaps that's due to the fact that when one of the largest media-on-demand companies makes less than $500 million a year total, it casts a $500 million figure for just hotel porn into doubt. Other articles published in 2007, the year Dines's references in conjunction with this number, put total revenue for the entire porn industry, not just hotel rentals, at "up to $500 million annually industrywide." [Emphasis added.]

Part of Dines's porn-phobia stems from her equation of the industry's (poorly documented) earning power with mainstream cultural cache. But if the entire porn industry is grossing about as much as a single PG summer blockbuster, how much water does this reasoning hold?

Dines gradually arrives at her main complaint, which is that porn has managed to become a part of pop culture, and she then segues into an anecdote about one student's claim that (presumably straight) young women who don't want to have sex simply don't shave their pubic hair, utilizing the shame of an untidy bush to elicit their own refusal of sex. These women know their porn-accustomed male dates will be so horrified by pubic hair that consenting to get naked spells instant humiliation and is therefore out of the question. Sound confusing? That's probably because such a convoluted tale renders college-attending young women into pitiful, self-hating shells unable to defend themselves from the second-hand tyranny of the dominant porn aesthetic.

Let's consider how many profound failures must occur in order for a woman in her early 20s to feel incapable of refusing sex: absent parenting, a sexist society, woefully inadequate or flat-out deceitful sex ed, similarly emotionally damaged and undereducated friends who can't encourage her to stand up for herself. Can every one of these problems plausibly be laid at the feet of the porn industry? Is this what feminism looks like, the sober assertion that when women old enough to legally marry, drive and vote decide that "saying no is too difficult," our best response is to outlaw sex on film? And how does eliminating porn magically teach anyone to have "authentic" sex or to say no to sex they don't want?

Dines denies that she favors censorship, but I am not sure how else one is to interpret her encouraging of Congress to be stricter about enforcing obscenity laws, or her "Stop Porn Culture" project. (Stop Porn Culture's website puts the phrase "scientific proof" in quotes.) That which she claims to object to in porn -- brutality, racism, narrow beauty standards -- are not hallmarks of all porn, but Dines would never promote or even acknowledge the feminist- or queer-made material that eschews the mistakes of the mainstream. Nor does she ever mention the far more troubling problems of sexism, racism, and narrow beauty standards permeating every fiber of our ostensibly non-sexual media. Long before Jenna Jameson became a household name, advertisers and film producers knew that sex sells, and companies peddling beauty products have always been aware that encouraging physical insecurity yields loyal customers.

Anti-porn activists do not want a more inclusive, egalitarian, respectful sex industry. They want no sex industry at all, and they'll say whatever they think will bring about such an outcome. To claim that eliminating sexually explicit material makes young women more comfortable with their bodies and more empowered to make decisions about their sexual lives is insultingly facile. But as sex educators have pointed out, Dines's goal is not to constructively critique and shape the porn industry or to deepen our collective understanding of sex. Her goal is to create moral panic. This is also the modus operandi of her fellow activists Robert Jensen, Catherine MacKinnon and the late Andrew Dworkin. But in an age when female adult performers have their own Twitter feeds, blogs and memoirs to affirm their lucidity and free will, it's much harder to press the old "all women in porn are abused victims!" lie that dominated discourse in the 1980s. New approaches are needed.

Now the argument against porn rests on claims that college students are "repulsed by their pubic hair" and that not shaving pubic hair is the only "meagre weapon in their struggle to maintain a semblance of sexual autonomy." That's what a complete lack of sexual autonomy looks like to Gail Dines: a (straight) man wanting to have sex with women who wax or shave. In her world, women are not human beings capable of asserting their own preferences or declining to conform to the preferences of others. They are completely cowed by men and they only derive confidence from conforming to the most stringent of male requirements.

I have a hard time believing many porn films are more misogynistic than that grotesque disavowal of female intelligence, capability and self-respect. And I have a hard time trusting someone who thinks so little of women with making decisions about what policies are best for furthering women's development.